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How to Make Remote Work Relationships Work

HerMoney Staff  |  May 9, 2023

Working remotely comes with its own communications challenges. Here’s how to better build relationships across the hall or the globe.   

By Jennifer C. Zoghby and Jeanne D. Maes

We live in an era where “swipe left” has evolved from dating apps to the Oxford English Dictionary. While the “swipe left” feature offers freedom in dating, it can also have an unintended effect. It blinds us to the reality that our lives and careers require us to engage with other people in all of their messy humanness. Actual human relationships still take work.  

Thankfully, if you’re feeling exhausted as you pour energy into your romantic, family, and friend relationships, there are some easy, or at least not-so-difficult ways to connect with your work colleagues across screens and time zones: The same relationship guidelines apply when dealing with co-workers across the hall or the continent. We are humans working with other humans, and we need to remember that. Just as we want to be treated fairly and seen as “real people,” so do our co-workers. 

Plus, the better our working relationships with our colleagues, the more career advancement opportunities we have — along with more peaceful working conditions. As women and academics in the workforce, we’re not only committed to a better future, we’re also focusing on managing relationships at work — an art form not covered by tech matchmakers on dating apps. 

Start With a Story

Whether you’re a long-term job or moving into a new role, you’re creating this next chapter of your career arc. First, start with a story — your story. As women, we may be natural storytellers, sharing tales with family and friends. But do we share any of our stories with our work colleagues? Do they know anything about us beyond the bland, brushed-out Zoom background they see during weekly check-ins? When we only present a two-dimensional image of ourselves, we reduce opportunities for deeper bonding with our team. 

Yet even if we’d like to share more about ourselves at work, it may be difficult given the constraints of remote work. Plus, due to pandemic concerns, we may be out of the habit of casual office chit chat after years of remote working. Or members of Generation Z may find themselves moving into an office setting without having learned pre-pandemic workplace socialization skills. (Grabbing a coffee with a colleague isn’t something some of us have ever done before!) 

So, how do we connect and tell our stories to a remote work team that may only know us online? And, what is the balance between oversharing and just enough? A whopping 80% of people who fail at work do so because they fail to relate to others, according to Robert Bolton in his book “People Skills,” where he explains that connecting is a skill worth developing.

Here are a few tips to get you started: 

If You Are The Team Leader or CEO…

Encourage team-building in person at least once or twice a year. While it may be an additional expense, there is something special about the bonds and camaraderie inherent in an in-person gathering that far outweigh the costs. Another benefit is that companies with high employee engagement report 89% higher customer satisfaction, according to Team Building. Plus, friends at work are also a great antidote to the dreaded “quiet quitting,” which can be toxic to an organization’s output. 

If You Are a Mid-Level Manager…

Plan Zoom coffee breaks on a weekly or twice-a-week basis. 

Encourage your team to share stories about themselves or something they find interesting. They could share about their favorite team or hobby. Perhaps they discuss their favorite food or song. Anything you can do to get them talking to each other about a non-work project will encourage their communication on a work project. 

If You Are an Entry-Level Employee or Not a Manager…

Practice being friendly and engaging with your co-workers, managers, and upper-level bosses. It’s important to remember that work small talk and small social talk are different but related so be careful about oversharing in a work context. 

Relationships at work are essential. While work relationships have challenges, they can also be quite rewarding – personally and for your organization. 

If You Are an Intern: 

Take this opportunity to observe the office culture. Think of this internship as another class in your educational portfolio. You want to learn and watch what others are doing and how they are interacting with each other. Pay attention to how they assign projects and manage them. 

What is the culture around deadlines? How do people interact in meetings? As an intern, you have a rare opportunity to see a work environment without committing to it. Your time as an intern is a golden ticket to discerning what you want in a work environment and what you want to avoid.


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Jeanne D. Maes, Ph.D, is a Professor of Management and Ombudsperson at the University of South Alabama’s Mitchell College of Business. Jennifer C. Zoghby, Ph.D., is a Visiting Assistant Professor of Marketing and Quantitative Methods there. To share your stories with them, email zoghby@southalabama.edu.

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